{ Plaster Up the Hole in the Wall and Forget Already }
Steve May

I am in my crib as an infant, my mother resting not more than six feet away from me in her queen-sized bed. My father's digital clock taints the darkness with a sickly red. It is 1:15 a.m., 1 August 1978. Suddenly outside there is a livelier light show: reds and blues dance through the quiet night, reflecting off the perfect lawns, through the trees, onto aluminum siding and brick. It all bleeds into the room and draws my mom's attention.
   A new addition to the deliberate, two-square-mile post-war bliss of Pleasant Hills, my street, Picture Drive, is the state-of-the-art of early seventies' Ryan home prefabrication. Identical brick houses alternate with aluminum-siding models down a long, twisted slope, mingling with the occasional split-level design before the hill rights itself, rising again in a small hump and a straightaway. The second white-siding house on the left is mine, and after that the street boomerangs slightly to the right, meeting the somewhat flatter, similarly twisted Challen Drive with a stop sign.
   My mother arises gently in her nightgown to locate the source of the light, parts the drapes and finds a precession of ambulances and police cars rolling silently past. They all turn onto Challen and continue on out of sight. They will stop at 330, a ranch-style home several hundred yards away, where a bloody hell has come gurgling to the surface.

Slide back to the previous November, still several months before my birth. There is an arrival at 330 Challen. Ronald Boyle, his wife Donna, and their three children, Brian, Autumn, and April, had relocated there some time ago from the gritty town of Clairton, and all the peace and quiet must have seemed serene, maybe even vaguely bourgeoisie. Ron's parents agreed to contribute a significant amount of the money for the house on one condition: that his troubled but well-meaning twenty-one-year-old brother, Jeff, also be allowed to live there. And in November, the six-foot, five-inch, 270-pound man arrives.
   From the first day, Jeff relates better to the children than the adults. He spends three days working at a local Busy Beaver Building Center as a truck driver but is dismissed. He works for a day at the Pleasant Hills Foodland as a bagger, but he is deemed too slow and strange to be effective and does not work again. He passes the time going for long, brooding walks, or playing with the kids, often sitting on the curb with them and carrying on about the things that matter in the world of a child, like Star Wars. Brian is nine, Autumn seven, and April five. With his curly, unkempt hair, boyish face, and wardrobe of T-shirts and jeans, Jeff almost fits in, but not quite.
   Donna makes passing remarks about his laziness and frequent tardiness at dinner. There are sparks between Jeff and his nephews and niece, who pick on him sometimes. Whatever conflict exists is not always one-sided: a rumor circulates that Jeff once punished Brian after an argument by forcing him to hang by his fingers from a second-story window in back of the house.

Slide forward to the early eighties. I am a young child and do not quite know what is happening, but my father has lost his temper and is screaming at my mother and the world in general in the kitchen. He is a small man— thin, five feet, eight inches tall, with black hair and large, green eyes—but his voice is huge and I don't really know how I got into this. His rage builds and builds until it reaches its climax, and he puts his fist through the thin, basement door. Thwack! A schoolteacher by day, he is also a skilled housepainter, and he fills the hole in early the next day. The white spot remains until we get a new door in the later part of the decade, not a point of pride for my father, but something like his inadvertent comment on the state of his world.

330 ChallenSlide back again. From the beginning, Monday, 31 July 1978 is nothing special. The National Weather Service callsfor a high in the upper seventies, with patchy fog and a twenty percent chance of rain in the evening. Pittsburgh Press weather bird Donald Dingbat is in an "Erie" mood, so he "figured he auto drive north for a vacation." Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase are starring in the forgettable Foul Play at the local Cinema World. Hooper, Star Wars, and The End were also playing. Andy Gibb's sickly infectious "Shadow Dancing" is all over the radio, nearing the end of its brutal, seven-week reign at the top of the pop charts."Do it light, taking me through the night, shadow dancing," the song's hook goes, pasted over a light funk disco groove, falsetto backing vocals abound. "Give me more, drag me across the floor, shadow dancing."
   Ronald leaves for work and Donna stays home with the kids. Jeff and his nieces and nephew likely don't do much as the morning wears into afternoon, other than watch television and play. Maybe Jeff walked to the nearby Open Pantry for a glass bottle of coke and a distraction. Maybe as afternoon fades into evening, the Brady Bunch-looking girls go off on their own, their soft, high-register voices ebbing and flowing in warm banter and play.
   Meanwhile, tension is building between the guys. Jeff grabs one of Brian's toys and refuses to give it back, using his size and reach to tease his nephew, holding the toy just out of reach. Perturbed, Brian kicks his cousin in the crotch. When Jeff catches up with him, he hits him hard on the small of the back. Thwack! Now legitimately pissed, Brian squeals. Mom! Jeff hit me! Donna scolds her brother in law and refuses to cook dinner. Jeff is not a boy, but a man, and a big one at that. And he's always late for dinner anyway. And he is lazy.
   As the sun begins its descent behind the hilltops, Ronald calls to touch base, and Donna tells him she and the kids are feeling under the weather. Maybe everyone watches The Jeffersons repeat at 8:00 p.m. or Good Times at 9. Donna, whom you could tell time by, puts the kids to bed after dusk.

Slide forward to the early-eighties again. A man gets drunk at The Red Bull Inn, a bar at the bottom of Picture Drive, and drives his truck a half-mile down Old Clairton Road and into the front lobby of Pleasant Hills Middle School, shattering the glass vestibule. This was no accident, and he does not need to give an explanation.

Slide forward ten years later. Two pre-teen boys throw a Molotov cocktail through a ground-level window of the same building, destroying the library in the subsequent fire. As they are minors, the details passed along to the public are sketchy at best. Clearly, they were not happy with the place.

Now it's a year later in the summer, and I'm in the back yard with my friends, Robb, Tim and Jeff. We're all twelve. Jeff is the runt of the group and we pick on him relentlessly for no discernable reason. Jeff is standing in the grass. I sneak up on him and punch him as hard as I can in the lower back, unloading the entirety of my 115-pound, five-foot, four-inch frame. Thwack!

Slide back into the midsummer evening in 1978. The loudest thing audible on Challen Drive is an air conditioner running full-blast or the all-enveloping wail of cicadas and crickets in the trees and endless manicured bushes and shrubs. Around 12:30 a.m., screams join the chorus, echoing between the houses. Adults and children around 330, the noise's epicenter, wake up. One places a call to Ronald at work. Something is not right. He speeds home.
   Stanley Glickstein, a polite, gentle, middle-aged engineer who lives with his family across the street from Boyles, is among those stirred out of bed by all the noise-hysterical screaming and shouting, pleading and sobbing. Its source got louder and louder, closer and closer. Suddenly, it is at his doorstep. A banging sound echoes through Glickstein's comfortable, white, two-story home. Puzzled but unafraid, Glickstein makes his way down the stairs and answers the door.
   A hysterical Jeff, with cuts on his hands and fingers and blood-spattered trousers, is on the other side. Something terrible has happened and the phones have been ripped out. Please, could he please us the phone. Could he please call police, please? Please!
   The following afternoon, the Pittsburgh Press's headline is oxymoronic: 4 SLAIN IN PLEASANT HILLS HOME. Jeff has been taken into custody and charged with the brutal murder of his brother's family. "We had evidence that led us to an arrest," is all Pleasant Hills' Police Chief Stanley Smith will say. The next day, the Press reveals that a kitchen fork and a knife had been taken from the Boyle home as possible evidence, along with three pieces of a baseball bat Chief Smith found in the grass in the back yard. "It's been a long time since I shed a tear," Smith says. "But when you see those little kids.... When my wife asked me if I could say anything about it, I cried."
   In his first interview with Allegheny County Homicide Task Force Detective John Nee, Jeffery describes leaving the house in the middle evening to get a bite to eat at McDonalds, through the woods. When he returns at 11:00 p.m., he finds two phones ripped out and his brother's family dead. In his next interview with Nee, Jeff allows that he "may have been responsible." Finally, he cracks. The story about his fight with Brian emerges, and Jeffery mentions the fact that the children picked on him and he found April's shrill voice disturbing.
   A vague, morbid chronology begins to present itself. After putting the children to bed, Donna goes to buy snacks. While she is gone, Jeff beats the kids with his baseball bat and then stabs them in the head and chest with a cooking fork and a kitchen knife. When Donna returns, the story reaches its climax. Donna sees blood and locks herself in the master bedroom. Jeff, in an advanced state of mindless rage, kicks the down the door. Donna manages to slip past him and run into the kitchen, where she takes money from her purse and throws it at Jeff. She tries to escape to the front door, which isn't more than twenty feet away. Perhaps while she is struggling with the door, Jeff catches her and drags her into the living room, where he fatally beats and stabs her. Jeff breaks the baseball bat into three pieces, thwack!, thwack!, thwack!, and hides them in the brush behind the house.
   When he is finished speaking, Jeff reflects, and in Western Pennsylvania jargon, offers a simple explanation: "The gumband just snapped."

Almost immediately, Pleasant Hills forgets about what happened that night in August. Neighbors and the police are reluctant to comment in the next day's issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There is an open-casket viewing at a local funeral home, with the children wearing wigs, then a funeral and then Donna and her children are buried side by side in Jefferson Memorial Cemetery, where raised headstones are forbidden because they complicate the process of mowing the lawn. Jeffery Boyle is sentenced to life in a mental institution. Ronald Boyle starts life anew. Sliding forward gradually, gracefully, it all fades into the past. The bloodstained carpet is removed and the smashed up drywall is repaired.
   For a long time, 330 Challen Drive sits empty and quiet, waiting for time to pass. When someone finally buys the former Boyle home, they have it blessed by a local Catholic priest before moving in. They put a black metal gate on the front door, giving the house a somber look. Not well lit in the evening, it radiates a certain abstract sadness. Over time, that sadness fades, but a scar remains.
   Even if the residents of Picture and Challen did not know it at the time, and even if their names and faces have changed, they lost a certain measure of their perceived innocence that night. It is possible to find peace and quiet in the suburbs, and low crime and good parking, and cleanliness and early bedtimes and good school districts. But it is not possible for mankind to escape itself.
   And perhaps that is why every neighborhood of any vintage or pedigree has, somewhere in its lineage, a 330 Challen Drive serving as an eerie, imbedded monument to the capability for animalistic viciousness each of us have buried in our subconscious, a reminder that we are not always as civilized as we like to think we are. For me, the sleeping infant, it was all not even a dream. But the flaw was within me, too, and the reality, though I was blissfully unaware at the time, was equally mine.

The author wishes to acknowledge the following sources:
Baird, Robert; cnn.com; Fine, Ira; Gemperlein, Joyce; Lichalk, Juanita; Lichalk, Ronald; May, Janet; May, Joseph; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Pittsburgh Press; Words & Music of Andy Gibb (as drawn from http://www.terminalmadness.com/users/darlene/).

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